Life, agonized: Trans singer stakes her place in hard rock

Life, agonized: Trans singer stakes her place in hard rock

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A hard-rock band with a trans performer as its lead singer is back on the road and coming to Philadelphia as part of its international Rise of the Underground Tour.

Life of Agony, fronted by Mina Caputo, debuted in the early 1990s with album “River Runs Red,” which introduced metal audiences to a unique blend of heavy, hardcore-tinged grooves, with the melodic and anguished crooning of Caputo (then known as Keith) soaring over top.

The band broke up twice: in 1997, reuniting in 2003; and in 2011, returning in 2014. Various factors contributed to the separations, including creative differences and shifting priorities among members — but they’re now in a happier place, Caputo said.

“It’s a positive thing because we all want happiness, and that’s what we’re after in this life.”

The singer came out as transgender — a rarity in the chest-pounding, male-dominated world of heavy metal — in 2011. Then again, this music genre unwittingly took fashion cues from gay leather-fetish shops. (Thanks, KISS and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford!)

Meanwhile, Caputo said, Agony is still performing for packed houses. 

“I don’t really pay attention to the opinions of the world, to be honest,” she added. “Quite frankly, there’s an awareness with our fans. They just want great music. Music has no gender. Maybe there was a lot of confusion in the first year or so.

“I laugh when I listen to how ignorant a lot of people are when it comes to gender and what I’m going through and what humanity is. Most people are dumb, and I hate to judge but I see it every day. There’s a long way to go for people to develop into their own divinity. There are a lot of primitive animals on the planet.”

Life of Agony’s music, for all of its hard edges, has always come from a lyrically vulnerable and reflective place, as well as a sonically unique place that newer hard-rock bands have used as an obvious influence.

“I know I’ve affected so many people and I’ve probably inspired and instilled courage in people,” Caputo said. “We were coming from a very original place and not subscribing to how a band with this sound should behave or act. I think the band preserves a lot of life on the planet. We hear it every day, countless times: ‘This record saved my life. This song saved my life.’”

Outside the band, Caputo has been steadily releasing solo albums — her chance to explore alternative music styles that wouldn’t necessarily fit on Agony’s sonic and emotional spectrum.

“I plan on going out and doing a lot more solo work in 2019 while we are recording the new Life of Agony record, which I’m excited about. My last solo tour in America was with Laura Jane Grace [of Against Me!],” she said. “There are certain songs I wouldn’t bring in the room for Life of Agony because it’s not the right nature or vibration. When I’m writing for Life of Agony, I won’t have a destination in mind, but I’ll have a feeling for what I should pen.”

Life of Agony performs 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15 at TLA, 334 South St. For more information or tickets, visit www.tlaphilly.com, www.MinaCaputo.com or www.lifeofagony.com.  


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